A retired U.S. admiral said Tuesday that China cannot and will not push the Navy out of the Asia Pacific, adding that if China’s armed forces “tangle with the U.S. Navy, they will lose.”
“Conventional wisdom is that the Navy is being driven out of the western Pacific,” Adm. Dennis Blair, who previously served as the head of U.S. Pacific Command, said at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Maryland, according to the Washington Examiner. “There are those who seem to believe in the event of a conflict over places like Taiwan and the Senkakus or the South China Sea, China would actually win or cause enough damage to American forces for us to pull back.”
Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China’s military has undergone a massive reform and modernization program designed to boost the country’s ability to win wars against small and major powers alike. China’s military presence in the Asia-Pacific region is currently growing at a rapid rate. In particular, China is expanding its naval and aviation capabilities, as well as its projectile-based warfare abilities.
China has been projecting power into regional seas and even the western Pacific. China has flown heavy bombers through the East China Sea, western Pacific, and South China Sea. Last December, China’s carrier battle group, led by the Liaoning, conducted drills in the western Pacific and the South China Sea before heading home by way of the Taiwan Strait. China’s actions have raised concerns among U.S. allies and strategic partners in the region, as well as a few observers in the U.S.
China is attempting to assert its dominance over neighboring seas and pushing past the first island chain.
Improved Chinese capabilities have broadened the operational scope of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), allowing the military to carry out new missions, and the development of more powerful area-denial/anti-access weaponry has strengthened China’s ability to deter challengers.
Blair explained that the U.S. Navy has been able to patrol the Asia-Pacific region without any risk of “scratching the paint,” but the Chinese military’s improved war-fighting abilities are making U.S. operations more difficult. As its power grows, China is moving closer to achieving its regional aspirations.
“If the U.S. Navy does not develop new concepts of operations, new ways of operating, new capabilities, China might be able to attain those goals, … if they were to do that, the damage to our interests would be grave, the consequences to the region and the impact to the globe would be enormous,” Blair warned.
During the Obama administration, the Navy’s power was weakened through budget cuts and other measures, limiting the effectiveness of a classic tool for the projection of power and the protection of American interests. President Donald Trump has promised to rebuild the Navy, but plans for how the president intends to fulfill this pledge are still unclear.
“My message to those of you who are actually in the Navy … is get going, recess is over,” Blair said. “Figure out how to defeat the PLA threat to the maritime missions in the western Pacific and let everyone know, the chattering classes in Washington, the Chinese themselves, that if they tangle with the U.S. Navy, they will lose.”
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